Fairfield donors and the roots of philanthropy

by Virginia Weir

Many supporters of Fairfield will say when asked that the roots of their desire to give something back were planted in them long before they made their first contribution. Whether the desire stems from their own humble beginnings, or from being witness to the impact that philanthropy can have on others, what seems to be fundamental to these donors’ charity is a sense of gratitude. They also share our conviction that through a Fairfield education, promising young persons can develop potential, and go on to make a difference in the world.

Meet three donors whose gratitude for what they received — in opportunity, in education, in values — is now having an impact on Fairfield students today.

Dorothy Bannow Larson

Dorothy Bannow Larson learned about importance of philanthropy from her father, Rudolph Bannow, for whom the Bannow Science Center is named.

In the 1960s, Dorothy Bannow Larson and her late husband Gil Larson used to come to community forums at the University on Thursday afternoons, moderated by then- President William C. McInnes, S.J. “We enjoyed those talks immensely,” said Larson. “McInnes was a fantastic speaker.”

They got to know each other, and eventually Fr. McInnes approached Dorothy and asked if the University could name a building in honor of her late father, Rudolph Bannow, the self-made businessman and founder of Bridgeport Machines, Inc.

“The University didn’t buy the name; they honored the man,” Larson said. “It was the first building at the University not named after a saint.” Thus the Bannow Science Center came to be dedicated in 1971, and thousands of Fairfield students have since come to know the Bannow name.

Rudolph Bannow came to the U.S. from Sweden at 13, learned to be a patternmaker, and became a foreman at Bridgeport (Conn.) Pattern and Model Works. In 1927 he bought the company with money he had saved and a small loan. Nine years later, Bannow and his partner sold that business and formed Bridgeport Machines, Inc. By the time of his death in 1962, the well-known company, which began with 42 employees, had grown to 700. Bannow’s son-in-law, Gil Larson, took over the company, which was later sold to Textron when Larson retired in 1968. Upon Larson’s death, the University was made the beneficiary of a substantial bequest through a life insurance designation.

Bannow was a well-liked employer, deeply involved in the community, and Dorothy Larson inherited her father’s interest in philanthropy. Now 84, she has lived in the same modest ranch house in Easton for 71 years. Along with Fairfield, she is also involved with the Easton Community Center, and is a board member of the Kennedy Center in Bridgeport.

Education, and science in particular, is also important to her. “Science is connected to industry, which creates jobs,” she said. “My father believed that with experience and education you couldn’t stop a man… One reason that my family is for Fairfield is that we truly believe in private education.”

Larson served as a University trustee in the mid-1980s and received an honorary degree in 1996. She has generously supported the University over the past 40 years, and has included Fairfield in her estate plans. “My father always said you have to give. If you give, you receive. And he was right.”

William McIntosh, P’92, P’86

William McIntosh, P’92, P’86 believes in the importance of scholarships to open up educational opportunities.

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